November 30, 2018 10:41 am
Updated: November 30, 2018 11:02 am

Relations between Canada and Saudis ‘fractured,’ kingdom seeking exit strategies from existing deals: memo

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland was visibly careful with her wording when asked if she believed Saudi Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman was involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in light of Thursday's announcement of Canadian sanctions being placed on 17 Saudi officials.

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The relationship between Canada and Saudi Arabia is “fractured” and the kingdom has ordered its ministries to look for alternatives to existing deals it has with Canadian businesses.

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That’s the determination of officials at Global Affairs Canada in their briefing notes prepared for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland ahead of her Oct. 15 phone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to discuss the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Global News obtained the notes under access to information laws.

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While largely redacted, they cast new light on how the government is approaching discussions with the kingdom about the murder, which took place in its consulate in Turkey in October by a team of hit men with ties to the Crown prince.

The notes also highlight a royal decree received from the Saudi government in September that ordered the kingdom’s ministries to look for exit strategies from existing deals it has with Canadian companies in retaliation for a tweet from the Canadian government calling for its release of civil rights activists in August.

Those tweets kicked off an unprecedented attack on Canadian interests by the kingdom and the notes suggest the fallout from that was top of mind for officials preparing Freeland for her talk with the Saudi foreign minister about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

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“The bilateral relationship between Canada and KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] remains fractured, with KSA having implemented multiple punitive measures over the last few months,” the memo reads before being redacted.

It goes on to note that interviews given by Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia who was expelled in response to the Badawi tweets, in which he criticized the Liberal approach to digital diplomacy were being interpreted inside the kingdom as “an apology from the Canadian government.”

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The section following that is redacted and it is not clear whether that was the intent of the government.

But the memo continues, shifting its focus back to the Khashoggi murder and encouraging Freeland to urge the Saudi government to continue with its own internal investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, along with its joint investigation with Turkish officials.

“Both are steps in the right direction,” the notes to Freeland read.

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In a background context section of the notes, Global Affairs officials go on to remind the minister of the “ongoing bilateral dispute.”

They also note that in addition to expelling the Canadian ambassador, recalling their own, ordering its students out of Canada, cutting off air routes from its national airline, and freezing all future business investment, the kingdom had also issued a royal decree ordering its ministries to look for exit strategies to get out of the deals they have already made with Canadian businesses.

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“Global Affairs Canada has learned that on the heels of their announcement on August 5, KSA issued a Royal Decree, date stamped August 6, which was unofficially received by the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh on September 16,” the memo reads.

“According to the translation of the Royal Decree, the Government of Saudi Arabia has instructed its Ministries and authorities ‘not to conclude or enter into any new commercial transactions with the Canadian companies or entities and to consider all required procedures to suspend the existing transactions and to find available alternatives.'”

That differs from the original account of the extent of the hit to trade ties between Canada and Saudi Arabia, in which the kingdom had said it would “put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.”

That decree calls into question the future of a controversial arms deal that lets London, Ont.’s General Dynamics sell armoured vehicles to the Saudis.

READ MORE: Chrystia Freeland mum on why Canada hasn’t taken action on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under heavy pressure to revoke the arms permit for the deal given the growing evidence suggesting the murder of Khashoggi was carried out by hit men with close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But Trudeau has insisted while the government is suspending future export permits, it cannot do anything to cancel the deal in question because it would leave Canadians on the hook for billions in penalties.

His assertion is so far impossible to verify — the deal is subject to a gag order and the terms have never been made public.

But it also is tied to thousands of manufacturing jobs in the London region, where the Liberals will be fighting next year to keep the three out of four seats they won in the last election.

While the former Conservative government inked the arms deal, it has been the Trudeau government that has protected it since coming into office in 2015.

The release of the memo comes just one day after Freeland announced Canada is sanctioning 17 Saudis in response to Khashoggi’s murder.

However, the arms deal remains in place.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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